Homemade Ricotta Cheese

I love ricotta cheese, so when I heard Lynne Rossetto Kasper describe how to prepare it on her weekly radio program, The Splendid Table, I rushed to the computer to download and try the recipe (http://www.publicradio.org/columns/splendidtable/recipes/homemade-ricotta-cream-cheese.html). Here is my version of her ricotta; I made a much smaller batch (one-quarter of the original recipe), as I didn’t want to commit to a full gallon of milk in case it didn’t turn out.

Happily, I succeeded on my first attempt. The soft, delicately flavored ricotta is delicious and comes together in just a few minutes. This is the perfect cheese for babies just beginning to enjoy dairy, and of course, for grown-ups who will love it plain, with fruit, drizzled with honey or agave nectar, or even made into a savory spread combined with cracked pepper and chopped fresh herbs. Thank you, Lynne, for the inspiration.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Line a medium fine-mesh strainer with a piece of wet cheesecloth and set over a medium bowl. Combine 1 quart of milk (1%, 2%, or whole) and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon (1 1/2 tablespoons) and continue to cook until you begin to see soft clouds of curd form. This will happen slowly at first, and then you will distinctly see the thinner whey separate from the white curds. They will fully form in about 2 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon or small fine-mesh strainer, lift the curds out of the whey into the prepared cheesecloth-lined strainer. Allow the ricotta to set for a few minutes until most of the whey has drained, but be careful not to dry the cheese too much.

I have found that if the ricotta does become a bit dry, you can stir some of the whey back into it fairly easily. Discard the whey and store the ricotta for a day or so in the refrigerator. It’s best eaten as fresh as possible.

Makes about 1/2 cup

Quick Summer Tomato Soup

As I was cleaning and organizing the kitchen one evening last week, the day before we were leaving for a four-day mini-break, I eyed the three New Jersey tomatoes sitting on the counter. They had been there for several days slowly ripening, and now they were perfect. Time was short and I still had many tasks to complete, but I couldn’t just leave them there—or, heaven forbid, stash them in the refrigerator.

So, I rallied and quickly put together a tomato soup that, even if I had had more time, I would have been happy to prepare and proud to serve. This is another family friendly recipe, as babies, kids, and adults will find it yummy. (Do make sure, of course, that your baby can tolerate onions and tomatoes.) Keep it simple and season the soup with just a bit of dried herbs (I used herbs de Provence, a mixture of dried thyme, basil, savory, fennel, and lavender) along with salt and pepper. Or, if you want more flavor and freshness, stir in some chopped fresh basil, oregano, and/or thyme after you’ve pureed the cooked soup.

Serve this soup warm, room temperature, or chilled. It is lovely just as it is, but it is also delicious garnished with fresh herbs and/or spoonfuls of fresh ricotta cheese. It freezes nicely, too.

Fresh Summer Tomato Soup

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Peel and slice 1 medium onion and add to the oil. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and light golden in color, about 7 minutes. Stir in 3 chopped medium tomatoes, add about 1/4 teaspoon herbes de Provence (or a mixture of dried or chopped fresh basil, oregano, thyme, etc., as desired), and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have released their juices and are soft, about another 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and puree in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment until smooth. Stir in some chopped fresh herbs if you wish. Serve garnished with fresh herbs and/or spoonfuls of fresh ricotta cheese, if desired.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups